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Sarah Meth & Okay Kaya, SET, London

 

It’s pouring rain outside and so I’m not feeling particularly motivated to leave the flat, not only that but I do not want to be standing around in wet sneakers all night. I’ve gotta write a review for a gig and I’m already hearing my editor's voice in my head, ‘be more critical’, on the plus side I recognize the voice and it’s only one voice, count your blessings where you can gettem. Of course, he’s right. My work comes off fanboyish more often than not. Hard to blame me though when London’s music scene is steeped in talent. Tonight, though, I’m feeling like I’m in the right mindset to be more critical. I’ve had a shitty day with my stomach still in knots, my veins are rife with criticism coursing through them. I arrive at SET soaked having not even listened to the two artists I’m meant to review; the makings of this article will be a spray of friendly fire I think to myself. 

Sarah Meth takes to the stage, 15 minutes late, fury swells inside me. She doesn’t look concerned and this free spirit attitude carries onto her guitar which sounds (is) out of tune. She’s missing stringed notes when she plays and a general unconcerned vibe is in the air. I imagine the set I’ll be watching will come from a child that’s been hugged too often and told by overly encouraging and enthusiastic parents that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. So this, the fruit of their labour, is happening to me. I am, in fact, mistaken.  

Sarah starts off with her set ‘What Does It Mean’ demonstrating her strength as a lyricist;: 

"But the night reveals my body but he can’t handle my mind", followed strongly by a second as yet to be released single ‘Blue’ with equally vivid lyrics:  

"We cry cause the system ain’t right, the sirens don’t sleep tonight."   

Sarah’s voice radiates unwavering. Light and airy at times it floats towards the highs but is equally confident when plunging to the depths of moody and morose bluesy bass. It works, it all works. No drums, no problem, sparse audience, still okay. Much later after her performance on my way home I stream her single which drips production values and instruments not apparent in her stripped-down set but both experiences are equally as absorbing as they are rewarding. Her lyrics are sobering and leave you feeling having lived their story like an implanted memory. With deja-vu comes a strong feeling of empathy engrossing the audience as Sarah sings her final tune solo on stage. The hold on us is strong but is finally shattered when a single coin falls from somewhere coming at us like a freight train screeching through the joint. I snap back to reality only realizing then I haven’t taken a single picture.  

By now I can no longer see the stage from the midpoint in the room it’s gotten so crowded. Relocating to the front of stage I’m greeted by Okay Kaya and her Trumpeter. She’s avoiding eye contact with the audience and fishing around her guitar case for her guitar strap. She’s now facing us recharging her confidence, she removes her jumper in true striptease fashion. The confidence melts away just as soon as it’s appeared as she’s strapping on her guitar and facing the crowd but it’s disarming and endearing. She audibly breathes heavily into her microphone wide eyed as if to joke that this is an intimidating experience for her, but I’m not sure it’s an act. Nervous stream of consciousness is pretty much littered throughout her set and I feel for her. Being on stage or even outgoing true enough are traits often associated with confidence but from my (own personal) experience are easily associated with being nervous as well.  I feel for her, I think she’s courageous. ‘So, these are some nice curtains’ she comments asking what the curtains are like at Hoxton Hall where she’ll be playing in May. Kaya, like Sarah, plays hushed set both vocally and instrumentally and also like Sarah is a strong lyricist. I want to keep hearing her lyrics which are as outrageous as they are transmundane (LOOK THEM UP, or better yet listen to her music many times).  She constructs her song lyrics like the children that wouldn’t use the instructions that came with their Lego, appropriating the pieces to manifest their imagination into physical being. Kaya’s grasp on vocabulary as a second language speaker is intrinsic; a tool repurposing her insides and outsides around her. It’s magical. I wish I could say more but I’ve maxed out my ‘Cerebral Per Diem’ – Kaya 

Moving away from the lyrical structure and focusing just on the sounds firstly, no percussion for either set and no effects, I didn’t miss either. It wasn’t exactly an acoustic set but some genre defiant beast. It was stripped down and raw, it felt real, it felt believable and approachable inclining the audience to experience both. It was, as stated previously, a very intimate performance. Preferring this to large venues there’s no better way to connect with the artist and their work. Everything about the sound was soft. Two amps, two musicians and the most hushed trumpet I’ve ever heard from five feet away. I could hear the strings being plucked instead of the sounds they produced, I heard the keys pressed and the exhales of breath from the trumpeter. The tones were all warm, gooey and soothing more lullaby than a song. This really stood out during Ka Meg a tune she sang in her mother tongue, If you’re unaware, as I was, Kaya is Norwegian. The Norwegian inflection in her voice slaps in songs like Psyche Ward and Ka Meg. Nagging connections between her and Nico really tugged at me, closing my eyes I was hearing echoes of 'Chelsea Girls' especially during 'Ka Meg' 

In the end both artists, their musical style, their lyrics, were a mix of reflexive narrations swaddled quietly in a poetic narrative. I left in a really good mood, much better than the one I’d walked in with. I’ve been listening to a lot of loud psychedelic tunes lately and live shows in particular so it was nice to break and switch it up by being drawn into a performance instead of being pushed back by what was coming off the stage. Both Sarah and Kaya have shows coming up in the next few months, dig a little and get yourself out there. 

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White Flowers, MOTH Club, London

Generally, by rule of thumb, flowers say it all. They’re often thought of as the brighteners of even the dreariest of times, be it soggy London days or failing health right up until the ultimate capstone, funerals.

Death be damned however I’m still poorly and propped up by pillows layered in bed sores that’re maturing nicely. I’m all Netflixed out but recuperating from some undiagnosed and possibly life-threatening illness, it’s the perfect time to catch up on music and emails. Fortunately for me these aren’t mutually exclusive. Ruthlessly I reap my inbox. As emails blur together one after another are culled until I come across White Flowers (@WhiteFlowersssss) outta Preston. I’m kicking myself for not seeing this message sooner because I’m instantly hooked.

I’m not sure if I’m floating through a fever dream or a cloud at this point but this dreamy noir duo is the UK's best kept secret, for the time being. Like breadcrumbs strewn upon a windy day their music leads me one way never fully letting me settle before committing to a change in tack; my musical bearings might be slightly skewed but this, however, doesn’t detract from the divine yet comforting unpredictability piping through my headphones. These layers spliced into their music add next level aural textures, seemingly they’ve pulled it off with an ease that’s as completely disarming as it is sophisticated and technically profound. I’ve greedily absorbed both tracks 'Night Drive' and 'Porta' before realizing there’s nothing left to consume or be consumed by.

Months pass, illness (just barely) overcome, and I’ve got no joy when it comes to tour dates or new tracks. I’m left relentlessly messaging promoters to no avail when suddenly two dates are seemingly announced out of nowhere. One you’ve missed at the MOTH this past Friday, the next you’ve still got a chance to snag. Just before 10pm Katie Drew and Joey Cobb ascend onto a shadowy lit stage making their debut. The lighting scheme changes for the first time this evening, a different tone is struck. It’s obviously orchestrated but I relish these theatrics. A dulling of our visual senses in favour of sound. Deepening tones shrouded in the new and mysterious ambiance envelops us as much as it does their music. The onlookers compelled draw nearer. They’re the third act of the night in a line-up of duos but it’s the first time I’ve heard applause by way of disruption rather than chatter from the audience. We’re not really left a choice, the velvety tones expand around us sucking up the air in the room, it’s any wonder how Katie’s voice and keys find their way weaving through Joey’s strings both manage their grip on us without faltering. It’s a performance as solid as they come. I’m not left disappointed and neither is anyone else.

Although their set withers away White Flowers won’t be wilting any time soon. Although their moody tones are dark and brooding, they’ll brighten any room or stage they’re situated near. Next Show is March 4th at Rough Trade East, if you’re in London stop by and waft in a breath of the freshest music out this year thus far.  

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Algiers, Stereo, Glasgow

 

Stereo is nearly full by the time the stage is set for tonight's show with the band’s instruments and four red vertical strip lights. When the lights are dimmed, they provide a feeling both warm and menacing, something that the band will seek to also achieve in the performance of their songs. 

Algiers, touring in support of new album There Is No Year, have been described as post-punk, gospel, soul and experimental noise. They are all and none of these. They manage an original trick of being neither a fusion nor a confusion of the various styles that they draw on. There is an amazing balance in transitions between the beats of a metallic Motown and the angry energetic protest of gospel punk. The lyrics are shot through with both dread and hope. Nothing here is meant to be wholly comfortable.

Lead singer Franklin Fisher’s voice soars then wails on ‘Dispossession’ backed by an almost dissonant chorus from the others. Bassist Ryan Mahan irregularly pops dance moves between keeping a throbbing industrial beat pulsing throughout the proceedings. A lead guitar is swapped for a free-jazz saxophone break. Yet, the set never loses its way. ‘Unoccupied’ is one highlight that gets all the crowd moving. It is a prime example of a great swinging beat that is undershot by industrial noise and '80s synthesizer power chords which the band craft into something both danceable and frightening in equal measure. 

This is music for dislocated times. It has sing-a-long choruses and soul beats flipping into noise breaks and back again. The band have touched an essence of uncertainty in the modern world and the audience can be sure they have heard a bit of the broken truth of it tonight.

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Rockaway Beach 2020, Butlin's, Bognor Regis - Part Three

Image:- Steven Velentzas (@captainstavros)

Sunday's sunshine enticed us out for a stroll along the front to admire the waves pounding in and to visit a couple of the local pubs as yet untried (with relative success) before Butlin's once again managed to entertain us, this time with go-karting.

Musically the day started off less promising with both Hull's Life and Bristol's Heavy Lungs seeming to fall from the same mold - talented musicians unfortunately fronted by entitled singers. Life's bassist in particular looks set for bigger and better things. Neither band should be faulted for their energy but Life's singer's histrionics (a kind of Jarvis-on-speed without humility) were off-putting to say the least. The excitement of the day may have got to him but me-me-me gets tiresome quickly.

International Teachers Of Pop, another act discovered via Marc Riley, were musically a different kettle of fish. Having been getting into the swing of things since Friday they were clearly as one with the audience. Unfortunately their novelty act schtick wasn't that appealing after more than a couple of songs, nice people though they seemed.

Deciding to take it easy after dinner we opted to miss Brix & The Extricated, although we did pass Brix waiting to be extricated by taxi when we left the hotel to see The Wedding Present, back for their second time at Rockaway Beach. I'd not known they were on the bill and it came as some relief to see their reliable name in the festival booklet. Amazingly they're another act the good Captain was new to. David Gedge and his current band may not have one him over with their competent playing (marred only occasionally by Gedge's guitar sound being too low) and reasonable banter (with enough nous to realise all the Butlin's jokes had been made by this point) but they were as fun to experience as ever as far as I was concerned & generally kept the pace up with only a few slower numbers interspersed.

Closing out this year's festival were 2019's Irish indie wunderkinds Fontaines DC (or "DC Fountains" if you're the Captain). Placing them in the final slot had apparently rattled a few cages, at least on Twitter, but in the end it avoided the scenario from the night before where a bright young act very nearly handed an older one their cards.

I've warmed to the group's album, having initially baulked at the spelling of it's title and the crowd tonight obviously contained a lot of fans of it, being as large as any seen in past years for far more established acts. As far as I know the quintet haven't toured a great deal since its release (happy to be corrected on that point) so this show likely provided more than just me with their first experience of the band live.

An assured and competent show was duly delivered, free of any technical issues and with excellent volume. There just wasn't much real interaction with the crowd (although generally this was a very low chat event across the three days) and something of the album's energy was missing. The performance never got to the plodding stage but neither did the material feel as inspiring as on record. Still, it meant for an early night.

A mixed bag this year then. The efforts of the team behind the event were clearer than ever with the added signing sessions & vinyl sales tables and making the John Robb interviews more visible was a wise move, whilst the camp's new pool complex is a compelling feature for those with the energy to get up and down the flumes. Musically, however, it felt like the weakest line-up of its existence (but then most festival's apart from it had crap bills last year so these things happen). No announcement yet of any acts for 2021 but there was a lot of Teenage Fanclub being piped into the restaurant and along the pathways of the site so who knows ...  

Thanks are also due to the lad in the maroon Napapijri running about on the morning of the last day & digging around in the kids' sandpit - cheers for giving us a laugh as we speculated on what you'd mislaid.

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Rockaway Beach 2020, Butlin's, Bognor Regis - Part Two

Image:- Steven Velentzas (@captainstavros)

Saturday dawned grey and blowy so clearly it was the best day to check out the excellent new swimming pool and flumes, improved no doubt by the lack of children (waiting up to 50 minutes to climb upstairs to the highest slides in peak season sounds awful).

Having got that fun out of the way we repaired to see Dutch trio The Sweet Release Of Death. A mix of Sonic Youth & Argentina's Capsula best describes their sound. A loud, propulsive and enjoyable way to start off today's live offerings.

Captain Stavros is a great advocate of the work of Our Girl & for me they were one of the very few acts whose Flying Vinyl disc was worth keeping hold of. This evening though the Brighton trio's sound strikes me as no more than pleasant. More bite is what I seem to be after in many cases this weekend and the indie on offer in their set isn't really grabbing my attention so I step out for some air after a couple of tracks.

Our main stage sojourn tonight kicks off with Peter Perrett, not far off the same vintage as John Cale from the night before. An articulate & amusing lyricist whose set on Marc Riley's 6 Music show last year was one of the best of 2019, he has a great number of punchy songs in his repertoire. Unfortunately he doesn't play these in the first part of his set & I'm left yet again trying to explain an act's relevance to The Captain as we mooch back down the stairs.

Next up though comes what, with hindsight, was the best act of the weekend and I'm not even a fan. Nova Twins' play funk metal, in the main, & that's one sub-genre I've never liked. They do though play it loudly and extremely well (their technical ability is fantastic). Singer Amy Love is genuinely pleased to be playing on a stage in a venue she's been to a number of times on childhood holidays and that pleasure is evident in the exuberance of her and Georgia South on bass (no idea who the bloke on drums is). I manage to stick around for most of the set, just to experience the volume & distortion and it's safe to say they do the job required of warm-up act very well. Perhaps too well in fact.

For tonight's headliners are The Jesus & Mary Chain, reformed in the past couple of years and with an overlong comeback album under their belts. Jim Reid falls foul of the urge to be ironic about Butlin's (managing to equate the place with "Stalag 17") and it's also their bad luck to have poor guitar sound for much of the show, rendering William Reid's guitar solos practically silent. I last saw the band on the Destroyer showcase tour in the '90s in the aircraft hanger that is Glasgow's SECC, a venue far too large for them & so tonight is intimate in comparison. Back then though it was already clear they'd shot their bolt in terms of audience baiting antics etc. and tonight was a reminder of how many of their tunes speak to you as a gloomy teenager but in middle age turn out to be plodders. The final straw is Jim's attempt at a joke prior to the encore "we'll go off for a half cup of tea" - just man up and either say a beer or don't mess around with a break in the set at all. Much of the crowd aren't in a state to care anyway so why not plough on? 

When the band speed things up and the sound technician improves things guitar-wise a bit this is probably a vintage performance from the JAMC as they are now but they were close to being blown offstage by the previous trio. Not feeling the need to stick around for an hour until Steve Lamacq gets behind the decks to unleash some lame musical world cup or other we call it a night.

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Rockaway Beach 2020, Butlin's, Bognor Regis - Part One

Image:- Steven Velentzas (@captainstavros)

It's that time of year once more to head down to the southern end of GB for the first festival of the year. This time around the on-site, daytime entertainment had clearly been beefed up so an overall different experience from past years was highly anticipated.

Weather-wise we got probably the best possible for a January weekend & certainly the best of the three years the event's been on at that time. This made daytime wandering around Bognor Regis itself very pleasant, whilst the location of this year's accommodation couldn't have been handier for the performance spaces + we even had a sea view.

Once we'd arrived, checked in and then had dinner the first act we were able to catch on the Friday night were Young Knives, who I think I last saw around five years ago (a quick look on Wikipedia confirms it was in fact eight, seeing as it was album number three they were touring at the time), the first of the weekend's acts whom Captain Stavros was unacquainted with. Singing their praises as decent purveyors of indie & post-punk, I lead us off to the show.

Eight years is clearly a long time in music. Having previously dressed as if they'd just left the office(s) they still had to work in to make ends meet, there's now shoulder length hair, a full beard, some kind of sequined, glam rock t-shirt, a coat which could once have been a pair of curtains and a fourth member on percussion. Not that any of that is in itself cause for alarm. Having stood about through a long-winded setting up of levels (the more kit you have the more there is that ca go wrong) we in the crowd finally get some music, fifteen or so minutes later than billed. 

Noise rock is about as close a description as I can manage. Screaming & shouting was a part of the band's sound previously but now there's a cacophony of guitar and drums worlds away from the likes of 'Sister Frideswide' or 'She's Attracted To'. After four numbers & with no interest in seeing how known songs are fitted into the set, we beat a hasty retreat, with me attempting to explain how different they used to be.

Thankfully this is the only real shock of the weekend. There's at least one surprise, on the Saturday night, but everyone else plays it as expected, for better or worse.

On to the main venue then for Black Country, New Road. The youthful septet served up a blend of Eastern European folk music sifted through Roxy Music & James Chance's saxophone noise. I've either not paid enough attention to them on the radio or it was a case of a band being very different in the flesh, but they weren't exactly what I was expecting. Which isn't though to say there was anything wrong with the show - they were an enjoyable act to watch & went down well with the crowd, albeit with the odd bizarre heckle although those happily seemed to go over their heads.

BC,NR were followed up about twenty minutes or so later by Soak, the first of the bands we saw to actively take the mickey out of the collective experience of us all being at a holiday camp. That fell as flat as it deserved. Having done something similar when reviewing the event in the past I can now speak as a convert. This was the festival's fifth iteration and it was clearly well attended & the assumption could be made from that that many people had been to it more than once in the last few years - not something to be mocked.

Musically the band played some pretty competent shoegaze incorporating a bit of Sundays twee, with on occasion Big Countryesque guitar solos. On the whole they left the impression that they'll be filling the shoes of Texas and/or Deacon Blue in years to come if they last that long.

Tonight's headliner was John Cale, the definition of a living legend and in an utterly different league from most of the other acts appearing over the weekend. That said I know nothing of his output other than the Velvet Underground material, Paris 1919 (first heard only last year) and the awful Songs For Drella album which I ended up putting in a litter bin as no secondhand record shop would take it off my hands in the decades before Discogs (Q Magazine didn't half recommend some terrible music in the '90s).  

He starts straight into his set with no preamble, which sets the scene for the entire show seeing as he's not that chatty. Making full use of the venue's projection facilities he and his band have some some of the best films/abstract displays of the weekend. Plenty of the songs maintain a good pace but noodling does become an issue on more than one. 'I'm Waiting For The Man' proves to be the only song I recognise, albeit it's a bit drawn out & sounds odd with Cale singing it. Still though this is one of the tightest sets I've seen at the festival to date, despite which (as well as out of respect for the singer's six decades of performing) people still felt it was more important to have a conversation throughout the performance.

Princesteen is the night's closing act but the combination of the two performers being paid tribute to doesn't inspire me to stay out so it's off back to the Shoreline for some shut eye. 

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